The cell phone lit up in the third inning of Friday night’s ballgame at Target Field. The indication was the call came from Kentucky. The tendency would be to press "decline,'' figuring it was a random sales call.
This time, I answered and it was a familiar voice: Clem Haskins, an all-time favorite among coaches who have worked in my long run as a sports writer in this area.
Clem sounded somber. I was expecting the worst.
Turned out it was reinforcement that, no matter how it ended for him with the Gophers, Clem was “good people,’’ as the country folks are known to say.
“I wanted to tell somebody how sad I was to hear about the passing of Roy Griak,’’ Haskins said. “I thought the world of that guy. I wanted to send my condolences to his family, and to all his friends at the university, and in Minnesota.’’
Griak, 91, died on Thursday night. He coached officially in the Gophers athletic department from 1963 to 1996, and continued to come into the office until illness prevented that in recent months.
He was the head track and cross country coach. He was a master in developing distance runners and cross country teams.
What was Griak’s title after he stepped down in 1996?
I’m not sure. Years ago, when Clemson football coach Frank Howard had retired and still worked in the office every day, he was listed in the press guide thusly: Frank Howard … Legend.
The Gophers could have done that with Griak, although that would not have fit his humble approach to life.
Haskins coached men’s basketball for the Gophers from 1986 through 1999. When he left after the academic missteps with his players, it can be assumed he wasn’t overwhelmed with good wishes from the athletic department.
Griak was an exception. “Roy and I were good friends, and we would talk six or seven times a year [after Haskins went home to Kentucky],’’ Haskins said. “He always wanted to make sure I was doing well … and the same for me with him.’’
Haskins said that Griak would go with the Gophers road trips for basketball when he had a weekend off from track and cross country.
“He was a big fan of our teams … of all Gopher teams,’’ Haskins said. “He bled maroon and good. I’m so happy that he was able to stay involved with the university for 50 years.’’
Asked how he was doing at home in Campbellsville, Ky., Haskins said: “I have some health problems, but you get older and that’s life. I can’t complain.
“I just wanted to say something about Roy. He was a wonderful human being.’’